Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beauty Queens - by Libba Bray

In Beauty Queens Libba Bray  takes a line that was fed to her by her editor: "a plane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island..." and runs with it. With most of the pageant contestants dead, along with the the plane crew, and chaperones,  the 14 girls who are left create their own story that is part "Lost", part Lord of the Flies, and part Pirates of Penzance, with just a trace of "Harry Potter" thrown in. Bray deftly develops the characters from girls who appear to be one-dimensional clones created by the Teen Dream Pageant into strong young women with dreams, intelligence, and chutzpah, who not only figure out a way to get food and fresh water,  they vanquish their foe, the evil Corporation, which creates all the nasty products, and television shows that our teen heroines thought they are supposed to love.

There were apparently no libraries on what turned out to be a not-so-deserted island, but Bray finds three places to include them in her work. Mary Lou (a.k.a. Miss Nebraska) remembers planning to become a pirate queen with her sister Annie. Mary Lou and Annie give themselves tattoos with a blue sharpie with Mary Lou choosing "an ancient Celtic design she'd seen in a book from the library." Annie, agreeing that becoming pirate queens is a "very good plan," suggests ideas for their adventures by reading "from a copy of On the Road she'd checked out of a library." My favorite library part though, is the last one, which comes very near the end of the book. An angry crowd is shouting down the evil Ladybird Hope: "A bonfire billowed up. Some of the crowd tossed copies of Labybird's book into the fire while a librarian pleaded with them not to do that and grabbed a fire extinguisher." Bray includes a footnote to this that reads: "Really, being a librarian is a much more dangerous job than you realize."  Readers of this blog know that if there is one thing I really can't stand it is censorship - even censorship of bad ideas from evil people. Libba, my friend, you just made yourself an official fan. Now I suppose I will have to read all your books. I've got a good start with Beauty Queens, and Going Bovine. Four more to go. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Distance Between Us - by Reyna Grande

As in Jeanette Winterson's Why be Happy when You Could be Normal the author of this memoir finds salvation from her dysfunctional family in books, reading, and, the library.

Reyna Grande was born in the town of Iguala, Mexico. She and her siblings are left in the care of her paternal grandmother when her parents cross the border to make their way on "el Otro Lado". Fascinated by stories that there is no poverty in the United States, and mistreated by her grandmother, Reyna longs to be reunited with her parents. When her mother finally returns it is with the news that the children's father has a new wife on "el Otro Lado" and they will be staying in Iguala. Years later, her father returns and illegally crosses the border with three of his four children, including Reyna. While she recognizes the one-bedroom apartment she now shares with her father, stepmother, brother and sister is the nicest place she has ever lived, and appreciates the educational opportunities she receives at her new school, she is at the same time disillusioned by life with her abusive, alcoholic father, whom she did not know at all before the crossing. Painfully shy, and embarrassed by her heavy accent, Reyna discovers solace in reading.
Over the last year, I had become addicted to reading, in part because I was not good at making friends. I shied away from kids because there was always something for which they could make fun of me: my ridiculous name, my height, my Payless tennis shoes, my thick accent, the unfashionable clothes I would wear...
Every Friday before heading home, I would stop at Arroyo Seco Library for books. The maximum I was allowed to borrow was ten, and I would read them all during the week.
As a young girl Reyna is drawn to the Sweet Valley High series, and V.C. Andrews books, but as a college student her mentor exposes her to Latino literature for the first time, and also gives her the first book she can keep, and Reyna realizes that she may also have what it takes to become a writer.

This is a wonderfully written, painfully honest, and inspirational book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs - by Molly Harper

I am fascinated by vampire legends, lore and stories. I have visited Dracula's boyhood home in Transylvania, and have taken the vampire tour of New Orleans. I am a bit embarrassed to admit how much I like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series of vampire books. I read all four of them in less than a month, and while I will say that I thought the fourth one left a bit to be desired, overall, I really enjoyed reading them. I found them thrilling and sexy. I also watch a lot of vampire movies, my favorite is Transylvania Twist, not because it is is an exceptionally great movie, in fact, it is pretty goofy, but because it features both vampires, and librarians. For this same reason, I couldn't resist reading Harper's romance/fantasy about a vampire librarian. In the world created for this series the dead and undead co-exist in the land of Half-Moon Hollow, Kentucky. Our protagonist, Jane, is a newly "turned" vampire, and unemployed children's librarian who shares the family home with the ghost of her great aunt Jettie. This work did not pique my interest as much as I expected it to. While the consummation of Jane and Gillbert's relationship only took place after several frustrating encounters, the sexual tension wasn't built up in a way that made me care one way or the other if sex ever happened. And, while this was not the first book I read to feature sex in the library, it is the first that made it out to be so unsatisfying.

Dave Chandler left me on the ninth floor of our university's research library without my panties after we lost our virginity together. He never called me again and actually turned on his heel  and walked in the opposite direction whenever he saw me on campus...Dave and I were both student library workers...It turned out that while the Russian folklore section offered plenty of privacy...the shelves left really weird bruises on your back.
I also grew weary of the one-dimensional characters - the obnoxious sister; the overbearing mother; the nasty supervisor librarian, among others.

It was a quick read, and I believe it may have been the first book I blogged about here to actually mention Banned Books Week (which coincidently was when I read it), and while I did not dislike it, I did not find it engaging enough to read the rest of the series.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October 4 - Precious Knowledge

Earlier this year, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board voted to end its Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in order to comply with the Arizona law that bars ethnic studies programs designed to "overthrow the United States government"; promote "resentment toward a race of class of people"; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” The District was threatened with a loss of up to $15 million if found in violation of the law. As a consequence dozens of books were removed from the curriculum, and the classrooms (in at least one case while students were still there) and boxed up to be put into storage.

The film Precious Knowledge is a documentary film which relates the events leading up to the passage of HB 2281. The ignorance demonstrated by the legislators in this film is so huge as to be embarrassing. When invited to attend some of the Mexican American Studies classes, all but one refused, insisting that the teachers and students would stage a different kind of class than usual on the day they attended; and that even a surprise visit was meaningless because the instructors can "change their pedagogy just like that [finger snap]" when someone uninvited walks into the room. Based on these ridiculous assertions, the program was banned, despite the fact that students who took MAS classes were more likely to graduate.

Today, the U.S. Ethnic Studies Program of Bridgewater State University will host a viewing of the documentary. Some of the books that were removed from TUSD classrooms will be on display during the screening in the Rondileau Campus Center at One Park Ave at 12:30.

While TUSD Administrators claimed that no books were "banned"  when they were removed from classrooms this chilling photo tells another story. See the story from the Huffington Post

View the Precious Knowledge Trailer

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Banned Websites Awareness Day - October 3, 2012

Last year students in Camden, Missouri found that they could not access affirming GLBT websites on school computers, even while websites that provided information on "reparative" therapies were visible. And students at Darmouth (Massachusetts) High School found themselves frustrated by the web software Fortigurad, which prevented them from accessing many legitimate news sources including NPR.Women looking for information on breast cancer have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to ask librarians to "unblock" the website so they could find out more about their condition. Even the conservative former congress member Dick Armey discovered that certain filters would prevent his constituents from finding his web presence.

Today, the American Association of School Librarians observes Banned Websites Awareness Day to bring attention to the problem of restrictive software that prevents educators, and others, from using the the resources they want, and other impacts it has on learning.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

News about Banned Books for Banned Books Week

Libraries all over the country are setting up displays, blogging and otherwise drawing attention to the consequences of censorship during Banned Books Week. My favorite stories appear here

My esteemed colleague, Ms. Mary O'Connell wrote this article for the Bridgewater (MA) Independent.

The Brentwood Public Library is currently reviewing the book Uncle Bobby's Wedding (a children's book about gay marriage) after a patron complaint that it was "inappropriate" for children

Even I was in for a few surprises when I read the Christian Science Monitor's list of Twenty Banned Books that May Surprise You

Smith Public Library in Wylie, Texas created this clever display using The Hunger Games series as a display theme.

ACLU Texas Banned Books 2012 Report

Monday, October 1, 2012

Banned Books Week - Top Ten Banned Books

I had grand plans to read each of the "top ten" banned books for 2011 in preparation for Banned Books Week, but as it turns out I only read one: Alice in Rapture, Sort of from the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The series comes in at number 6 on the list. I had, however, previously read some of the other books on the list: ttfn by Lauren Myracle; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For a complete list see below.
  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism 

Alice in Rapture, Sort of
There are over 20 books in the Alice series, and I only read one of them. I think the challenges must come from some of the later books in the series, as Alice gets older in each one. Rapture takes place during the summer between sixth and seventh grades (a.k.a. "the summer of the first boyfriend") - some french kissing going on, but not much else, at least for Alice and her friends. Her brother, Lester, does have to answer to their father for "entertaining" a young woman in his (the father's) bedroom. As for "nudity" there was one scene in which a bathing suit top came off; no language that I can imagine anyone calling offensive (unless you count "heck") and some talk about "big boobs". I am not sure what the "religious viewpoint" is. One of Alice's friends, Elizabeth, is Catholic and there is some questioning about what is considered a sin and what is not.

Libraries don't play much of a role, although they are mentioned on two consecutive pages, in unrelated passages. Alice's father suggests she go to the library to learn about child care when she is hired for her first babysitting job, and Alice recalls the multitude of rules she had in elementary school including
what entrance you used in the morning, what door you used going home, when you could talk in the library, how many paper towels you could use in the rest room, and how many drinks of water you could get during recess.
This book was especially fun for me to read because it takes place in Maryland (my home state). References to the Baltimore Orioles, High's Dairy stores, and Ocean City invoked some strong nostalgia in this accidental Bay Stater.

For more information about Alice see Phyllis Naylor's blog:

More Information about Frequently challenged books see the American Library Association's page